Italian meatball casserole

By Wendy Monro

What do you get when you bring an Italian man, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona with you on a trip to the beautiful English seaside town called Dorset? You guessed it, Italian meatball casserole. I need to back up a little in order to explain. My family is visiting England for a couple of weeks. My daughter, Daphne, invited her boyfriend and his parents to join us. They have never been here before and I am having a blast showing them around.

We ate lunch in London. We arrived just as they were changing over from breakfast to lunch. So, we were able to try some eggs with smoked salmon and pizzas cooked in a wood fired oven. I had the most amazing salad with butter lettuce and avocado mixed in a whole grain mustard salad dressing. I added goat cheese to make it that much better and it worked. We arrived in Claud’s hometown, Hungerford, and were greeted by the family with wine, baguettes, crackers, grapes, cheeses, hummus, olives, and a fresh green salad. We were so happy to see everyone and get caught up while we ate these delicious snacks.

The following day, we took our guests to the Polly Tea Room to have traditional high tea. This comes with scones, clotted cream, jam, tiny cakes, and small sandwiches. It is served with English tea too. I hadn’t been to the Tea Room is such a long time. It was a lot of fun being a tourist again. We drove them home through the Savernake Forrest on our way home. I forgot how beautiful it is in that forest, especially in the summer when the sun in finding its way through the trees. The floor is covered in ferns. We went to a spot where there is an old column and the location where Claud took me on our first picnic together.

Soon, we were travelling to Dorset, my very favorite part of England. We stopped at a roadside caf on our way to eat lunch. This restaurant is called; “Little Chef” and you see them all over England, on the side of the freeway. Daphne’s boyfriend, Jayden, stepped out just before we ordered. He asked his mom to order him coconut water. I told her I doubted this place had coconut water.

She said, “It’s so weird, he never drinks coconut water.” She asked the waiter if they had it and he just looked at her with confusion. I don’t think he even knew what that was. Jayden returned and it turns out, he said, “I’ll have a coke and a water.” That made much more sense. We all had a laugh.

Every time we arrive in Dorset, we have to stop at the grocery store to stock up on food. We stay in our friend’s cottage and cook and eat the whole time. Usually, Claud and I will cook a big meal for everyone at least once while we are there. The rest of the time, we all just snack constantly. This time, Jayden’s dad wanted to make one of his family’s special meals. He is Italian and his grandmother used to make meatballs. She would serve them over pasta or in Italian bread as a sandwich.

There were quite a few of us staying in Dorset. He thought it would be best to make a big casserole. We stopped at the store and he and his wife bought all of the ingredients necessary to create a large dish of meatball casserole.

When we got to the cottage, we were about to start working on the casserole. However, someone got a hankering for fish and chips and we drove down to the beach to eat this instead. This town is the best place for fish in chips and there is nothing better than eating them by the sea while the sun sets.

The following morning, we made the casserole. We made a huge tray of it. It was perfect and lasted us throughout the day. We kept snacking on it even after lunch. I made a salad and heated up some bread to go with it. This is the perfect dish for a large group. We had seven teens and six adults with us that day. I’d say that was a pretty big group. Everyone loved it.

Meatballs:

1 pound ground beef

teaspoon sea salt

1 onion, diced

teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoons Italian seasoning

teaspoon dried oregano

teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon hot sauce (or to taste)

1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup milk

cup grated Parmesan cheese

cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beef into a mixing bowl. Add salt, onion, garlic salt, Italian seasoning, oregano, red pepper flakes, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well into the ground beef. Add milk, Parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs and mix well. Form into 1 inch meatballs and place onto baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside.

Pasta:

1 pound ziti pasta

Cook according to the package directions. Set aside.

Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 24 ounce cans crushed tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add garlic. Saut for five minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to make it smooth.

Casserole:

In a casserole dish, place the pasta on the bottom and cover with sauce. Place the meatballs on top. Cover these with more Parmesan cheese. Place into the oven and bake for 15-25 minutes, until heated all of the way through.

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